Saints Are Not Made in a Day
Redemptorist Father Larry Kaufmann launched his new book, Become Love, at my parish recently. His talk is a fitting conclusion to my trilogy of articles on conversion and the journey into a deeper life of faith.
Fr Kaufmann explained that spiritual growth is a gradual process. Pope John Paul II called this the “law of gradualness”, whereby the physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual growth of human beings happens slowly.
Pope Francis also speaks about accompanying people by identifying “constructive elements” in their individual situations and leading them slowly into the fullness of the Church’s teaching.
A great misperception that we Catholics have is that we must adhere to the Church’s teachings first before we can participate fully in the life and ministry of the Church. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In the book, Fr Kaufmann shows how even the characters in John’s Gospel spread the Good News in fits and starts.
The Samaritan woman, for example, throws up a barrier after barrier to push Jesus away—the fact that she is a woman, that she is not Jewish, that she has been divorced five times, that she is not currently married. Each time, Jesus gently overturns the obstacle.
Finally, she embraces the fullness of life that Jesus has to offer and runs back to her village to tell everyone about what she has discovered.
Aren’t we a little bit like this? We want a relationship with Jesus. But we are afraid. We’re afraid that it will take us out of our comfort zone, and we find obstacles that allow us to postpone that encounter with Jesus indefinitely.
And so we deceive ourselves. I’ll find more time for prayer and spirituality when the kids move out. My job is so demanding and I’m too tired when I get home, but when I retire I’ll have time for prayer and meditation. I’m sick and in pain, I can’t possibly concentrate on prayer right now, but when I feel better…
Or else we’re like Peter. Fr Kaufmann says that Peter takes the whole duration of John’s Gospel to accept Jesus’ calling. He loves Jesus. He has the faith to walk on water. He correctly recognises Jesus as the true Messiah.
Despite all this, he loses faith and begins to sink. In the drama of Holy Thursday, he denies that he even knew Jesus. Only at the end, remorseful and ashamed by his lack of courage, he reconciles with Jesus and finally is ready to receive the mission to “feed my sheep.”
Likewise, we have these “ah-ha” moments in our spiritual lives. We see things clearly and we see the hand of God acting in our lives. We are grateful and fall on our knees in thanksgiving.
But when the next trial comes along, we forget that transformative experience and we try to do it all on our strength.
When we realise that we failed because we went on our own, we are remorseful. Instead of running back to the arms of a loving Father and ask for forgiveness, our shame keeps us away.
These stories give me hope. They remind me that saints aren’t made in a day. Saints become holy. Slowly. Erratically.
In his 2018 apostolic exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate (Rejoice and Be Glad), Pope Francis urges us to live out holiness in everyday life.
He says that holiness is not reserved for canonised saints or authority figures in the Church, such as a “bishop, priest or religious.” No, he says, each one of us can live holy lives, by living and labouring with “integrity and skill in the service of your brothers and sisters [by] working for the common good and renouncing personal gain [or by] loving and caring” for our families.
We don’t start out as saints. We grow into holiness. Slowly. Erratically.
“This holiness to which the Lord calls you will grow through small gestures,” writes the Holy Father. However, Pope Francis says, that this doesn’t happen automatically. It requires some hard work on our part. Like the Samarian woman at the well, we need the courage to set aside our fear:
“In all aspects of life we can continue to grow and offer something greater to God, even in those areas we find most difficult. We need, though, to ask the Holy Spirit to liberate us and to expel the fear that makes us ban him from certain parts of our lives,” Pope Francis says in Gaudete et Exsultate.
“God asks everything of us, yet he also gives everything to us. He does not want to enter our lives to cripple or diminish them, but to bring them to fulfilment.”
The pope continues: “Discernment…helps us to carry out the mission to which he has called us, for the good of our brothers and sisters.” the pope says.
This brings me to my last point. I often feel that as Catholics we are far too hesitant to join ministries and pastoral activities in our parishes. We feel that we’re not qualified or that this is the domain of priests and deacons, or maybe those few people who seem to do everything at church.
The apostles were not qualified either. They were fishermen, tax collectors, farmers. But in their friendship with Jesus they found their true purpose. They entered their life of ministry in fits and starts. They got it right sometimes. They got it wrong a lot of the time.
And yet, they embraced the mission Jesus left them. Their efforts, coupled with their gradual spiritual growth, transformed the world.
Our faith might be the size of a mustard seed. But we also are called to build up God’s kingdom here on earth. Each one of us comes with unique skills and a passion for something.
How can we use these talents to bring life and fruitfulness to our parishes, to make them places of outreach and renewal?